In most of my conversations, with pretty much anyone, I have to remind myself that honesty matters more than knowledge. It’s just not so easy living that truth when you’re as worried as I am about what other people think.
Situation / Trigger
Conversation about something I know nothing about
People think I’m stupid when I don’t know things.
Anxiety Level (1-10)
They say things like:
- You know that.
- You’ve never heard that?
- You know…[then the answer].
- You should check it out.
After I say something that I then realize is wrong or unintelligible, they do a double-take, tilt their head, pause awkwardly when it’s clearly their turn to respond, change the subject, and/or start talking to someone else.
Now and then they laugh, in seeming disbelief or as though it’s cute (this sounds crueler than it comes across; these are not terrible people).
When it’s clearly my turn to talk and I’ve got nothing, they search my eyes, change the subject, and/or start talking to someone else.
Once it’s established I know nothing about the topic at hand – revealed either by my silence or misinformed/empty contributions – I’m naturally excluded from the conversation as those engaged stop making eye contact with me.
To my relief and disbelief, sometimes they seem to register no judgment at all, only an opportunity for them to share something new with me.
Sometimes it’s clear they don’t know anything about the topic of conversation either. Sometimes they seem bothered by this, like I am. Other times, they don’t seem to care at all; they seem happy just listening, changing the subject, or, believe it or not, removing themselves from the conversation (what a novel idea).
What’s More Likely
Most of my “evidence” is based on my perceptions, but most of what I write here proves I can’t rely on those. The fact is, I cannot know with certainty what this pause or that look really means.
It may surprise some people that I’m not more knowledgeable, but that doesn’t mean they think I’m stupid. It could, however, mean they think I’m ignorant of the topic at hand. Or it could mean they think I’m just having trouble expressing what knowledge I do have on the subject. Either way, it’s probably true – there are plenty of topics I’m ignorant of and I second-guess myself all the time about what’s “smart” to share and what’s not, which makes sharing uncomfortable, if not impossible.
The thing of it is, nobody makes me feel as bad about what I don’t know as I make myself feel.
Plus, the more focused I am on sounding smart, the less focused I am on what other people have to offer. That makes it difficult to respond to other people’s contributions, which is what actually makes for good conversation. So not only do I come across as ignorant, but also a bad listener and a poor conversationalist to boot.
(Positive affirmation, where are you?)
Why can’t I just accept what I don’t know, share what I do know, and listen and respond to what other people have to say?
Alternative Thought / Positive Affirmation
I know what I know; I let the rest go.
Anxiety Level (1-10)
What’s Worrying You?
Keep your own worry journal and work it through. I picked up this tool in cognitive behavioral therapy. Inevitably, my anxiety level at the end of the exercise is less than it was when I started. I hope it works that way for you, too.